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Sustainability Master’s Degree Requirements

The Master of Liberal Arts, Sustainability degree field consists of 12 courses (48 credits). One course must be taken on campus here at Harvard University. Weekend options are available, where you can complete the requirement in one weekend. You choose either a thesis or capstone track.

Getting Started

  1. Explore the required course curriculum.
  2. Determine your initial admissions eligibility.
  3. Learn about the 2 degree courses required for admission.
  4. Search and register for courses.

Required Courses

12 Graduate Courses

  • ENVR 101 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Sustainability and Global Development
  • ENVR 210 Critical Analysis of Environmental Systems
  • 3 sustainability skill-set courses
  • 3 sustainability electives
    • EXPO 42c or EXPO 42b is an option.

Thesis Track: Additional Courses

The thesis is a 9-month independent research project where you work one-on-one in a tutorial setting with a thesis director.

  • 1 research methods course
  • ENVR 496 Crafting the Thesis Proposal in Sustainability course (on campus)
  • ENVR 499AB ALM Thesis in Sustainability (8 credits)

Recent Thesis Topics:

  • Examining Partnerships Between Grocery Stores and Food Pantries as a Mechanism for Reducing Grocery Stores’ Generated Food Waste
  • Solar Power Tower: An Alternative Method to Power Egypt
  • Quantifying Benefit-Cost Ratios for a Low Emission Zone against Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles in Bangkok
  • Dumping on the Disenfranchised: Environmental Justice Implications of Polychlorinated
    Biphenyl Contamination in West Virginia
  • Design Methodology for Optimized Climate-Specific Passive Dew Collectors

Capstone Track: Additional Courses

The capstone is a research project that you complete in a semester-long course. You choose between the (1) independent research capstone or (2) consulting capstone. For either track you complete:

  • 3 additional sustainability electives
  • Precapstone tutorial (noncredit)
  • Capstone (on campus)

Independent research capstone. First, in ENVR 598 Sustainability Precapstone Tutorial, you design an independent research project with your assigned research advisor. Then, in the ENVR 599 Independent Research Capstone, you execute the research while receiving guidance and support from your instructor and fellow degree candidates.

Recent Research Capstone Topics:

  • Analyzing Implementation Barriers to Farm-to-School Programs
  • Comparing External Cost in the Transportation of Alberta Bitumen by Pipeline and Rail
  • To What Extent Are Wind and Solar Companies Pursuing a Clean Energy Future at the Expense of Human Rights?
  • Clean Ride to School: Viability and Opportunities of School Bus Electrification in
  • Capturing Carbon Atmospherically for Use as Materials and Ingredients as an Alternative to
    Fossil Fuel Sources

Consulting capstone. First, in ENVR 598a Consulting for Sustainability Solutions Precapstone, you work with your research advisor to identify a partner organization. For example, a company, nonprofit organization or governmental agency. Then, in ENVR 599a Consulting for Sustainability Solutions Capstone, you develop a Sustainable Action Plan (SAP) to support the partner’s sustainability efforts.

Recent Consulting Partners:

  • IBM
  • National Oil Company of the United Arab Emirates
  • Sargento Foods, Inc.
  • Luwire Wildlife Conservancy (Mozambique)
  • Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University
  • Automotive Industry, Mexico

Capstone Sequencing. For either capstone, you enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in back-to-back semesters and in your final academic year. The capstone must be taken alone as your sole remaining degree requirement.

The Harvard On-Campus Experience (1 course)

Many courses can be taken online, but you are required to come to Harvard University for at least 1 course—either the thesis proposal or capstone course—which offers you in-person access to faculty, campus resources, and the academic community.

Thesis track: Complete the thesis proposal course on-campus either in our 3-week January or 3-week summer session.

Capstone track: Complete the capstone course via an online course with a mandatory on-campus weekend (fall or spring) or in our on-campus, 3-week summer session.

International Students Who Need a Student Visa

To meet the on-campus requirement, you study with us in the summer for a minimum of 3 weeks. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa through Harvard Summer School. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.

Optional Certificates

You can choose to concentrate your degree studies in an specific area within sustainability and earn a certificate along the way. There are 5 specific options and 1 broad overview option:

  • Corporate Sustainability and Innovation
  • Environmental Policy and International Development
  • National Resource Management and Sustainable Ecosystems
  • Sustainable City and Communities
  • Sustainable Food Systems
  • Sustainability (broad overview)


Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Be sure to visit Degree Program Admissions for full details.

Initial Eligibility

  • Prior to enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you must possess a 4-year regionally accredited US bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent. Foreign bachelor’s degrees must be evaluated for equivalency.
  • You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master’s degree in sustainability or a related field. Check your eligibility.

The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.

Earning Your Way In: Courses for Admission

To begin the admission process, you simply register—no application needed—for the following 2 graduate-level degree courses (available online).

  • ENVR 101 Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Sustainability and Development Practice
    • You have two attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.
  • ENVR 210 Critical Analysis of Environmental Systems

To register for either ENVR 101 or ENVR 210, you’ll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42c Writing in the Sciences or EXPO 42b Writing in the Social Sciences.

The courses above, including EXPO 42c and EXPO 42b, count toward the degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses.

Course sequencing. While the 2 courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we highly recommend that you start with the proseminar, ENVR 101. Each course must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

MITx MicroMasters Credential Admissions Pathway

If you have earned the MITx MicroMasters credential, you may apply the credential toward admission and complete 1 additional course at the Extension School. Learn more about the MicroMasters pathway

Applying to the Degree Program

During the semester of your second degree course, submit the official application to the program. 

Don’t delay! You must prioritize the 2 degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:

  • avoid the delayed application fee or the loss of credit for expired course work.
  • ensure critical and timely enrollment in degree-candidate-only courses.
  • gain access to exclusive benefits (see bottom of page).

Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have 10 more courses after admission to earn the degree.

For details about full eligibility, the application process, and application fees, visit Degree Program Admissions.

Search and Register for Courses

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round. You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).

To find degree courses in the DCE Course Search and Registration platform:

  • Under Search Classes, scroll to Browse by Degree, Certificate, or Premedical Program.
  • Select Graduate Degrees
  • Choose Sustainability to explore program courses.

To Complete Your Degree

Required 3.0 GPA, 2 Withdrawal Grade Limit, and Repeat Course Policy

GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the 2 degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.

Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive 2 withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. See Academic Standing.

Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.

Courses Expire: Finish Your Coursework in Under 5 Years

Courses over 5 years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As noted above, the proseminar cannot be more than 2 years old at the time of application.

You have 5 years to complete your degree requirements. The 5-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any 2 degree-applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to the degree program.

Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the 5-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work.

Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the 5-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).

Graduate with Your Harvard Degree

When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: Sustainability. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May.

Degree Candidate Exclusive Benefits

When you become an officially admitted degree candidate, you have access to a rich variety of exclusive benefits to support your academic journey. To learn more, visit degree candidate academic opportunities and privileges